Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Gweilo Dojo: THE LOST EMPIRE (1983)

It’s times like these when the tragic loss of fine exploitation talent hurts the most. When Bill Wynorski took over after Jim’s tragic accident, it was clear who was in the front of the talent line in that family. None makes this point more clear than Jim Wynorski’s freshman outing. When people ask us why we like Jim Wynorski (which, to our dismay, no one ever does), this is what we’re talking about. Virtually exploding with cinematic enthusiasm, young sonny Jim grabs all of his favorite movie clichés and frappe’s them on high. The result? The polar opposite of “suck”. Sporting a fantastic b-movie cast, catchy electronic score and lots of eye-candy, it's amazing nobody has seen fit to give this a full-blown special edition DVD. 

Opening with an oddball scene that really sets the stage for the oddball antics to come, a busty blonde is trying on jewelry in an old Chinese man’s store only to have three ninja-lookin’ dudes with spinning shuriken on chains appear out of nowhere. The old man busts all Dirty Harry on them, but they are able to deflect the bullets with their stars! Faster than you can say Sho Kosugi, the cops are on the scene and for some inexplicable reason are able to shoot the bad-guys (firearm training, perhaps), but not before being taken out themselves. One cop, mortally wounded, ends up in the hospital.

At least she dressed
for the occasion
As it turns out, he is the brother of tougher than leather karate copette Angel Wolfe (Melanie Vincz). Before he dies he passes on one of the stars and a cryptic, rambling message about the devil and hands off one of the ninja's shuriken. Of course this makes perfect sense to Wolfe’s fed boyfriend Rob (Paul Coufos), who sees the star and declares “I’m talking about international terrorism, mass murder and a legend of supernatural horror that goes back over 200 years!” Of course he is talking about the legend of Lee Chuck (not to be confused with the legend of LeChuck), an asian crimelord who sold his soul to the devil in exchange for immortality. Apparently he had a lousy agent at the time because there was a stipulation in the contract that stated that Lee Chuck had to provide one soul every twenty-four hours to stay alive. Even on a Sunday? What a pain in the ass!

Lee Chuck, as it turns out, is after the Eye of Avatar; a set of jewels created by a long forgotten race called the Lemurians. Ummm… ok. If the eyes are joined then the wielder becomes all powerful. Fair enough, though this sounds a bit like DEATHSTALKER (1983) and damned if Lee Chuck doesn’t smack of Lo Pan, who came along some three years later. Anyway, the presumed guise of Lee Chuck is Dr. Sin Do (Angus Scrimm), a megalomaniacal cult leader who has an island fortress, is plotting to take over the world and… wait for it… holds secret deathsports in his private arena! I wonder if he ever invites Master Bong Soo Han over for tea?

So now Wolfe has got it all figured out and there is only one thing to do… sign up for the tournament of course! But not so fast! See Dr. Sin Do is a little crackers (and who wouldn’t be after killing people every day for 200 years, the tedium would surely drive you mad), so he has a stipulation in the entry rules. Entrants must be in teams of three. I’m sure you can see exactly where this is heading, right? Now Wolfe must search for a duo of hot female ass-kickers so she can enter in the tournament. First stop? The local Indian reservation to summon an ex-policewoman named Whitestar (Raven De La Croix) who arrives on a white horse and cracks one liners like May West and dispenses pearls of Indian wisdom. When learning that Wolfe’s brother is dead she offers her sympathy by saying “you’ve endured great sadness… the winds will take care of him”. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Who wants to have a breeze be actively involved in their well being, even if they are dead?

Wolfe and Whitestar decide that they need a couple cans of redneck champagne in order to figure out what their next move will be. To achieve that end, they get up in a couple of skimpy outfits and head to the local Saddle Rack. C’mon, you know that this will not end well. Sure enough, on their way out the door a couple of shitkickers decide they are going to get some… the hard way. This leads to a bout of busty femme-fu that would make Russ Meyer shed a tear in appreciation.

At this point the movie begins to feel a bit episodic, but hell, the episodes are so much fun, who cares? Next on the whistle-stop tour through the exploitation cinema chestnuts is a women’s penitentiary! Wolfe decides she’s going to recruit a tough (and yes, busty) badass named… err, Heather (Angela Aames), what? No special name for her? The only problem is that they have to wait to talk to her until she is done having a brawl in the yard with superbitch Whiplash (Angelique Pettyjohn) who is attired in what must be a prison-issue sectional leather dominatrix outfit (yes, you read that right) and their brawl is conveniently located near a big patch of mud. Fuckin' A, Jim, you are, errr, I mean were, the man! Since this whip-cracking, top-ripping brawl is perfectly acceptable for this prison, also acceptable is the fact that you can go visit inmates, not in a visitor’s area behind bullet-proof glass, under heavy security, but you can just go and hang out with them while they take a shower! Yep, Heather’s release back into the free world is negotiated while she is naked, wet and soapy. To be honest, it took me the third viewing for it to actually dawn on me that this might not actually be very realistic. I don’t know why it never occurred to me before. No idea.

Lost Empire Girl Fight by Sleazegrinder

So now that we have our team together, it’s time to head off to Sin Do’s island, courtesy of his henchman Kodo (Robert Tessier) who’s giant, fluffy eyebrows seem to appear and disappear throughout the rest of the film. Once on the island the girls are run through a battery of tests (many of which involve a noticeable lack of clothing) before the tournament. They also discover that the island is a prison for failed combatants and that the security team will hunt down escapees with a gorilla on a chain! Add to that killer robot-tarantulas, a UL approved death ray, and a decapitated, smack-talkin’ zombie head and you have a movie that packs in so much entertainment value, that you might actually forget that it really doesn't make a whole hell of a lot of sense. Actually, it makes very little sense, but trust me even if you do notice, you'll never care.

You could criticize THE LOST EMPIRE for hitting tons of cinematic clichés on it’s way to it’s ultimate goal, which is yet another staple of drive-in cinema, but that would cheapen it. And it’s already cheap. This is Wynorski paying homage to all of the things we love about drive-in movies and exploitation flicks in general, almost in the vein of a spoof, but with without the cynicism. Without actually ripping anyone off, he utilizes influences from James Bond, Jack Hill, Dirty Harry, Bob Clouse, Russ Meyer, and many more, all done at a breakneck pace and tongue-in-cheek style. In a great bit that introduces us to Officer Wolfe, a group of thugs are holding some gradeschool kids hostage. The captain (Kenneth Tobey) calls for Wolfe to go in and kick ass, while Sgt. Prager (Blackie Dammett) is calling for moderation. Naturally Wolfe goes in guns-blazing on a black motorcycle, blowing away perps left and right and when it’s time for the bad guy to go down, he’s sure she’s out of ammo “Ok, pig, that’s six, you are all mine!”. Wolfe blasts him across a desk and says “if you are going to come to school punk, you better learn to count!” and if that doesn’t get a chuckle out of you, you should probably pass this one up because you will never understand the true genius of Jim Wynorski... not Bill.

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